Understanding Bronze Age faience in Britain and Ireland
Around 350 Bronze Age faience beads and pendants are known from Britain and Ireland, mostly from burials of cremated human bone. Their relationship with Near Eastern and Mediterranean faience has long been debated. A National Museums of Scotland (NMS) led international research project is investigating their origin, composition, manufacture and use (inter alia) for a Corpus of faience from Britain, Ireland and adjacent parts of mainland Europe. Non-destructive controlled-pressure scanning electron microscopy with energy dispersive microanalysis (CP-SEM-EDS), X-ray fluorescence (XRF) and binocular microscopy provide compositional and textural information without sampling or coating. Wavelength-dispersive electron microprobe (EMP) analysis of rare polished samples provides additional and more accurate compositional information. The results demonstrate that direct derivation from Egyptian or Mediterranean faience traditions can be ruled out. The beads and pendants were manufactured on a small-scale basis, using mostly a mixed alkali paste and glaze from plant ash sources (including seaweed) and a copper-based glaze colorant probably derived from bronze. Tin (or its oxide) seems to have been deliberately added. Various forming and glazing techniques were used. We have demonstrated, for the first time, that some beads were worn during cremation; and we have further investigated the effects of cremation on faience by experimentally cremating a pig wearing a newly-made faience necklace. 2005 Materials Research Society.